Council votes to protect property of evicted tenants
Evicted tenants have a new chance to avoid the typical scene of belongings strewn on the sidewalk and left to be taken or damaged, according to the lawmakers behind new emergency legislation.
The D.C. Council passed a bill July 10 to grant those tenants an extra seven days to figure out what to do with their property. The vote was 11 to 2.
Councilmember Anita Bonds said the new U.S. Marshall policy that spurred the emergency legislation required that landlords change the locks to the living space instead of throwing out the property of former tenants. This raised questions the council had to answer: would tenants have access to the now-stored belongings? What were landlords supposed to do with items that were not immediately discarded?
The emergency legislation demands that landlords keep former tenants’ belongings for up to seven days before tossing them to the curb, a more “balanced” answer to an early version, she said.
“It will give a tenant some time to organize and recover their possessions,” Bonds said.
She said small landlords in particular found an earlier version of the bill, which forced the property owner to keep former tenants’ belongings for 30 days at the landlord’s expense, to be burdensome.
Councilmember Charles Allen, who co-introduced the bill, said he would be voting against the emergency legislation because it doesn’t do enough. The previous 30 day allotment was a start for giving tenants a second chance, he said. “There is a role for government to play in safe, clean, accessible storage of their belongings,” Allen said. “This responsibility shouldn’t be borne by housing providers but rather by government.”
Earlier versions of the legislation gave tenants 24 hours to opt in to the seven-day hold but David Grosso, at-large councilmember, proposed an amendment to get rid of the opt-in, automatically enrolling evicted tenants in the program. Grosso agreed the new bill was not all the District owed its most impoverished residents and the council should consider the possibility of government-funded storage for evicted tenants’ property.
Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who voted for the legislation, quoted Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” by saying evictions cause families to lose more than just their property. Evictions are bad for everyone, she said, tenants and property owners.
“We want to strike a balance between not only residents, who not always but often are living in poverty when they’re evicted, and property providers, who are losing money everyday because they can’t lease their unit,” Silverman said.
She said she looks forward to nailing down a more permanent, “good” solution with the working group that will craft long-lasting legislation to be put in place after the emergency legislation expires in 90 days. Solving D.C.’s affordable housing crisis will also help provide solutions to the eviction problem, Silverman said.